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Author’s Corner: “The God Song” explores impact of technology on music

Holly Viers • Feb 16, 2020 at 10:30 AM

What would happen if traditional Appalachian music were influenced by artificial intelligence?

That is the guiding question behind Charles Mitchell’s new novel, “The God Song: Artificial Intelligence Meets American Appalachia.” Mitchell, a D.C. area resident with family connections to Southwest Virginia, said the book explores the impact of technology when it becomes semiautonomous.

“It’s been around a while, the idea of what happens when machines wake up,” Mitchell said. “This is more of what happens when such awakened machines have impact, and what’s the next step after that impact.”

What’s the author’s background?

Mitchell was born in South Carolina but grew up on the North Carolina coast. He spent his teen years in Columbia, South Carolina, where he completed some classes at the University of South Carolina before joining the Air Force.

About four years later, Mitchell got the opportunity through the service to complete his undergraduate degree and attend officer school. He worked as an intelligence officer for many years before retiring in the ’90s and moving into the consulting business.

Mitchell began writing fiction after his retirement, publishing books in 2003 and 2005. In 2014, he released a British dystopian novel called “Dark Sings a Distant Herald: A Christmas Story on Holding Back the British Twilight,” the first in his “Distant Herald” series.

How did the idea for “The God Song” come about?

While visiting family in Southwest Virginia, Mitchell and his relatives often check out music events and venues, including Bristol’s Rhythm and Roots and the Carter Fold. Mitchell said this region’s musical environment, along with his son’s recent business venture into artificial intelligence-assisted music creation, inspired “The God Song.”

“I’m coming back from one of those visits,” Mitchell said, “and in my head I’m asking the question, ‘What would happen if rather unusual artificial intelligence-assisted music was accidentally introduced into this particular environment?’ ”

What’s the book about?

Set in Southwest Virginia, the book tells the story of technology’s impact on Appalachian music through multiple perspectives, including locals and outsiders. It was published Sept. 4 and is available on Amazon as a paperback or e-book, or online via other major book retailers.

“You take that kind of trusting environment and you throw a wrench into the middle of it, and what happens? That’s the unfolding piece of this novel,” Mitchell said. “Does it get resolved in the end? Well, that’s for the reader to determine for themselves, but also it was written to have the reader ask themselves some pretty tough questions.”

Mitchell said a variety of characters, including software developers, cyber thieves, journalists and religious leaders, face unique challenges as the story unfolds.

“At the end of the day, we’re all human,” Mitchell said. “We all have strengths and weaknesses, and the book explores a number of those strengths and weaknesses, and also how people react when they encounter the unknown.”

What’s next?

Mitchell is working on the next installment of his “Distant Herald” series, which he hopes to finish in the next few months. He’s also pondering a sequel to “The God Song.”

“This book does lend itself to a follow-on,” Mitchell said. “There are some interesting twists and turns at the very end, so it does lend itself to a next one.”

For more information, visit charlestmitchell.com.